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    • Miko Coakley ’23 practices yoga poses on the quad.

Hopkins Combats Stress Through Yoga

Vivian Wang ’23 Lead Features Editor Melody Cui ’23 Lead Sports Editor
The recent flood of yoga-related posts from fitness influencers on Instagram and YouTube has caused the ancient practice to make a comeback. This recent revival of yoga has been observed on the Hill: yoga has found its place in the curriculum, in extracurricular activities, and in the daily routines of many members of the Hopkins community.
The “yoga” most commonly seen and heard of today looks different from the traditional version practiced 5,000 years ago. The complex spiritual practice originated in ancient India as a means to train the body and mind to become self-aware. Once yoga spread to the United States half a century ago, it was rebranded as a tool to promote physical and mental wellbeing. As a result, Western yoga maintains little connection with its roots. Senior School informal yoga coach and English teacher Alexandra Kelly explained that physical development, known traditionally as Asana, “was really only one portion of the way that yoga was [originally] practiced.”

In keeping with its history, Kelly wants her students to go beyond the stretches and poses. In every session, she incorporates “breath work” and “mindfulness awareness” to encourage her students to think “about some of the other limbs of yoga besides just physical.” She stressed how crucial it is to “not just [pick and choose] the parts that I want,” and to “be respectful and appreciative of [yoga] without appropriating it.”

English teacher Stephen May also aims to involve both the body and mind in his yoga classes by having students dive into numerous styles and techniques. He coaches Middle School informal yoga and meets with his students three times a week, each session focusing on one particular set of movements and poses. May holds “vinyasa classes, [which] starts off with sun salutations [and progresses] through a series of standing poses,” as well as “Yin classes, [which involve] hold[ing] floor poses  for extended periods of time.”

May and Kelly find that teaching informal yoga is rewarding for the students and for themselves. Kelly described the satisfaction of seeing her students enjoy the benefits of yoga: “My favorite moment is when students [...] talk about being so relieved and less stressed.” May mentioned that he loves teaching yoga since “[he] get[s] to do yoga too. It can be very restorative and also kind of gratifying, and you get this rush of endorphins when you’re finished with practice.”

The immediate and gradual benefits of practicing yoga are numerous. Following a yoga session, Matt Segal ’24 stated that he “feels refreshed and like [he had] just completed a moderate workout” without feeling “sore or super tired.” It gives Segal “a little energy boost that is useful for the rest of the academic day.” After attending regular yoga sessions as part of her winter sport, Julia Fok ’23 noticed “how surprisingly strong [she had] gotten.” Yogi Anna Capelle ’24 adds “increased flexibility” to the long list of benefits of doing yoga. Capelle elaborated, “as [practicing yoga becomes] a routine, the poses get easier and feel more natural.”

While practicing yoga has many physical benefits, Kelly emphasized that “there is a lot more to yoga than just stretching and strengthening muscle groups.” For Hopkins students taking informal yoga, their end-of- day yoga session is also a time to take their minds off of any stress-inducing school work. Alex Spasov ’23 noted that her “favorite part of yoga was the sense of relaxation and an allotted period of time where I could just focus on something other than school work and stress.” Fok agreed, adding that “after a long day, it was nice to have time to just breathe.” For Rosa Bilston ’25, yoga class is a “time to meditate” and “to be tranquil and in the moment.”

During exam week in 2020, Kelly offered two yoga classes for Hopkins students that aimed to utilize the physical and mental health benefits of yoga. Kelly worried that students would “not have their usual outlet for exercise,” as they were constantly “hunched over their desks and computer screens” in preparation for exams. “Giving [students] even just a forty-five minute break to get back into their bodies, recenter, and de-stress seemed important,” explained Kelly. While the ongoing pandemic has prevented the return of exam-week yoga, Kelly is still “interested in finding more spaces [that] give people the chance to just be present with themselves for whatever small period of time.”

During Fall of 2021, the Body Positivity Club (BoPo) was also active in providing students who don’t take informal yoga with opportunities to reap the many benefits the activity has to offer. Co-heads Harini Thiruvengadam ’23 and Miko Coakley ’23 believed their initiative was “a good fit” because “it relate[d] to [their] goals of creating a body accepting environment.” To foster this environment, the two held bi-weekly yoga sessions during Senior School free time. Coakley detailed the general routine they would follow: “We would start sitting and begin with breathing...then progress from stretches in a tabletop position to more active poses and movements. We ended with Sava-sana and then returned to a seat to breathe and say ‘namaste’ before rolling up our mats...and heading to lunch.”

Although BoPo had never led group yoga sessions before, they were surprised with the turnout. Thiruvengadam recalled, “We had such an enthusiastic group of people to start off the initiative, and it was so great to come together with everyone for the first time.” Coakley echoed this sentiment: “I feel like I had a real impact on people’s days and I saw them excited to show up to sessions and sit and move with everyone together.”

For those thinking about practicing yoga, Coakley recommended beginning with meditation, followed by a guided yoga, either freeform or from a video. For those who like and connect with meditation and guided yoga, Coakley suggested going to a class: “Yoga and hot yoga [classes] are so fun, and open classes offer good, eas[y] options for beginners.”

Finding a comfortable environment or community can also make practicing yoga easier and more enjoyable, especially when starting. Fok viewed yoga as “a fun way to relax at the end of the day with [her] friends.” Coakley added that “the synced movement makes yoga feel like a connective force and an acceptance by the others practicing around you.” For those who are nervous about yoga, Coakley said that finding the right community is a confidence booster: “Yoga is a practice that can be molded to the goals of anyone, and the community is filled with other people just like you: they want to improve themselves and find balance.”

With many opportunities to practice yoga on and off the Hill, Coakley said, “Yoga is beautiful, and I hope that more people find a place for it in their lives.”
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